Gulf governments are pressing ahead with US$128 billion (Dh470bn) in rail networks, connecting people and industry across thousands of kilometres of desert.
Etihad Rail, which is building a Dh40bn train line in the UAE, will award the first construction contracts within weeks, the chief executive, Richard Bowker, said yesterday.
"We are very excited about seeing construction before the end of the year," he said during a Meed rail conference in Abu Dhabi.
Work on the first part of the national 1,200km railway is scheduled to finish in 2014. The first phase will link Shah, Habshan and Ruwais in the emirate.
The UAE's link is planned eventually to connect with Saudi Arabia as part of a wider GCC network.
The kingdom started laying tracks last month for its 2,400km passenger network that will link six stations across the country, said Rumaih Al Rumaih, the chief executive of Saudi Railway.
"We are targeting passenger services by 2014," he said on the sidelines of the conference.
Saudi Rail is also in talks with two of its biggest exporters about transporting oil and petrochemicals.
Both Saudi Aramco and Saudi Basic Industries Corporation (Sabic) may be able to have their products transported by rail from Riyadh to the northern border with Jordan, he said.
"Saudi Aramco and Sabic are potential customers. There are three cement factories along the network and agricultural companies which are potential customers."
Saudi Arabia has already completed a 1,400km link from a phosphate mine in Al Jalamid, creating the world's largest line for transporting minerals.
Saudi Rail plans to issue the first tenders for construction of the passenger stations in November.
Qatar's rail system is at an earlier stage of development. The government has invited consortiums to bid by Sunday for initial expression of interest in its 130bn Qatari rial (Dh131.15bn) project.
It needs to complete its project by June 12, 2020, the deadline given by Fifa for approving the country's transport network ahead of the 2022 football World Cup.
Involving four metro lines in Doha, a light rail system, and a long distance link, Qatar's system was the largest rail transport project under way outside China, said Geoff Mee, the deputy chief executive of Qatar Rail. It would start awarding construction contracts for the metro and long distance railway next year, he said.
The US firm Parsons Brinckerhoff has been appointed strategic project manager for the development.